Political Writing: The Best Writers of the Democratic Presidential Candidates

SpeechI am getting very jazzed over the presidential primary elections. But it’s made me wonder — do any of these politicians have the writing chops to back up their views on the issues? So I decided to look at each of the remaining Democratic candidates’ websites (and before any people start hollering at me about fair play, just hold your horses — I’ll get to the Republicans later this week). As much as I would like to judge them using entirely objective measures, it simply isn’t possible from their websites. For the record, I looked the websites of Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Mike Gravel, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, and Dennis Kucinich.

Okay, I thought – I’ll look at a speech from each candidate as a representative sample of their work. Now, I’m not naive — I know perfectly well that a more appropriate title for this post is the Best Speechwriter Hired by a Democratic Presidential Candidate. But who, besides speechwriters, wants to read that? So be that as it may, I went trolling on the candidates’ websites for a speech, preferably one on a subject all of them had touched upon, like the economy. Much to my shock and dismay, I had to hunt for speeches. And in Dennis Kucinich’s case, while he has video of everything he’s ever said on his website, he blatantly discriminates against those who would rather read a transcript. So I Googled him instead to come up with a speech.

Was it possible to come up with a speech on a single topic that all the candidates had given? Heck, no. So instead, I viewed speeches on the economy (Clinton); restoring our democracy (Edwards); a personal message “You Can Help Me Win” (Gravel, whose website offered no speeches that I could find); reclaiming the American Dream (Obama); a new foreign and domestic vision (Richardson); and nuclear nonproliferation (Kucinich).

Now what kind of opinion-maker would I be if I didn’t back-pedal and offer some disclaimers? Before I give you my results, first the rationale:

  • I am not — repeat, not — making any candidate endorsement by telling you who I believe the best writer to be. While there have been great Presidents in our history who were also great writers, I do not believe there is any hard and fast correlation between one’s writing ability (or one’s speechwriter’s ability) and one’s ability to lead the country.
  • My criteria for judging the “best” writing from a speech was whether it was able to evoke a true feeling of community or vision. Now, speeches in the primaries are obviously different from presidential speeches for State of the Union or other occasions. We are not going to get “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” Primary speeches must set forth the problems of the country and pose solutions, tell the voter why the opposing party or administration is cognitively challenged or morally bereft, and why the candidate poses the best solution.

And yet — within these speeches I did come across two candidates whom I felt gave some memorable images about America and its promise: Barack Obama and Dennis Kucinich. In Obama’s Nov. 7, 2007 speech, “Reclaiming the American Dream,” he stated:

America is the sum of our dreams. And what binds us together, what makes us one American family, is that we stand up and fight for each other’s dreams, that we reaffirm that fundamental belief – I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper – through our politics, our policies, and in our daily lives. It’s time to do that once more. It’s time to reclaim the American dream.

Similarly, Kucinich was able to evoke a sense of real global unity in his May, 2005 speech given at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference:

As we work to create new models for enhancing cooperation between participants of nation states, a new model is evolving in the world of diplomacy. Wherever and whenever nation states fail to reconcile their differences, a new citizen diplomacy arises: Citizen diplomats summon the power of their own hearts and confirm their own humanity through reaching out and discovering their brothers and sisters speak other languages, have other colors and other religions and share a common desire to live out their lives in peace and tranquility. The work of nongovernmental organizations is equally urgent in saving this planet.

Both these candidates for me, at least, best typified the type of writing in a speech that can inspire as well as educate. But that’s just one writer’s opinion.

What say you all?

Addendum (1/19/08): I received a lovely email from Tracey deFrancesco of the organization Procon.org. She informed me that their website has a page dedicated to the 2008 Presidential election, including speech transcripts of ALL the candidates, Democrat, Republican, and Third Party. So hooray for Procon! And definitely check them out if you’re looking for information about all the Presidential candidates. I only wish I’d heard of them earlier. Sigh.

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4 Responses to “Political Writing: The Best Writers of the Democratic Presidential Candidates”

  1. a non y mouse Says:

    Obama is an excellent writer–his first book (dreams from my father) is well worth reading, in the genre of classic coming of age stories. i don’t know if it indicates skill as a good president or not but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

    there was a recent newsweek article on him and his speechwriter–or editor in a sense, as Obama writes much of his stuff himself.

  2. toddiedowns Says:

    I thought I had heard Obama wrote much of his own pieces. If so, the man can write. It’s a lovely thing. I’m looking forward to reading his book.

  3. Citizen Diplomat Says:

    I’m sure Obama did a fair amount of the writing, but he must have had a ghost writer to smooth things out. There is just no way with his schedule that he could have written two books already. I do respect his method of diplomacy, however, much more citizen oriented then others.

  4. a non y mouse Says:

    why would he have needed a ghost writer? the first book was written over 12 years ago. and he also had way more time on his hands 2 years ago than he does now.

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